Magni MV 861
Just listening to the sound of the Magni warming up as Shane Chalke fettled the throttle had the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. Shattering the quiet of his rural Virginia home with the most raucous, feral, mechanical shriek as he rode up to meet us, for once in my life I was rendered speechless.
And, as Shane continued blipping the throttle to get the Magni up to temperature, my mind was transported back to the vintage festival at Barber Museum last year. At that time I met Sir John Surtees, and watched him making parade laps on his 1950s MV Agusta race bike. As intense as the experience was, especially when they were warming the bike up in the pit area, I have to say Shane’s Magni sounds better to me. Although trying to make this sort of distinction is probably something akin to splitting the atom.
Snarling through its individual, Magni GP, one-piece exhaust pipes on idle, before winding up the most phenomenal mechanical crescendo as Shane roared off down his driveway, the Magni MV 861 has risen to number one on my chart of best motorcycle sounds. Knocking off any bevel drive Ducati with Conti pipes and Delortto carburetors or my old beloved three cylinder Laverda, Shane should be selling audio CDs of this intoxicating Italian stallion making hot laps on the racetrack.
Getting a chance to see one of these hand built Magni MV Agusta’s was one of the highlights of thirty years on two wheels, hearing it was more of the same, but actually having an opportunity to ride it was close to overwhelming. Thankfully, I have ridden more expensive motorcycles, but that doesn’t alter the fact that the Magni is the prize of Shane’s personal collection. It is so rare, the thought of even scratching it had me quaking in my bike boots. Especially when the venue was going to be Summit Point raceway, a track I had never seen, and one that seemed to have way too many concrete barriers for my tender disposition.
Once in the saddle, there was a certain level of “business as usual” to help calm my frayed nerves, and pulling in the somewhat heavy clutch and hitting the starter button the ride was about to begin. Gently twisting the throttle to get a feel for how quickly the engine revved and how far I needed to twist it, I made a point of filling my lungs with air a couple of times. Next, it was clutch in and right toe under the shift lever in preparation for lifting it for first gear. Pausing for a moment to work the lever in and out a few times to fully appreciate the noise from the dry clutch, I was aware Shane was watching and got back to business.
The thought of having to shift upside down on the right wasn’t adding much comfort, as I eased out the clutch and gently applied some throttle. Immediately greeted by a sound from the dry clutch like a chain jumping of its sprockets, my heart beat passed redline as I let the clutch fully out, while picking up the throttle. Instantly transported to a mechanical wonderland as the liquid smooth, inline four cylinder propelled me forward with an eager rush, the accompanying mechanical symphony rising with my conductor’s throttle hand put me in the perfect motorcycle moment. Watching the Veglia tachometer needle rising and falling in time with the accompanying sound track, I was extremely happy to have a tinted visor on my Arai, so no one could see my stupid grin.
Shane had alerted us of a jetting problem that was causing the Magni to stutter around 6000 rpm, and I was happy to use this as the rev limiter to begin with for fear of hurting this rare, exotic engine. Rolling around the challenging circuit, the Magni is very spacious, conflicting with my thoughts that the bike would have a restricted racing crouch. While the pegs are high, when combined with the long reach to the clip on handlebars, the bike has more of a sport-touring feel. After coming close to tossing Shane’s Ducati 900SS a few laps earlier, due to over inflated tires not my incompetence for a change, the first couple of laps on the Magni were locked somewhere between solid fear and child like wonder. Celebrating the glorious noise the bike makes when letting off the throttle, every single gear change is the stuff gear heads dream of when they are tucked up in bed at night.
Picking up speed down the long, back straight, the bike tracked true through the fast left-hander, and I was almost starting to feel comfortable. Cancel that thought immediately. Hauling on the anchors, the Brembo GP2 calipers did a good job of clamping onto the full floating rotors. Unfortunately the Forcella 40mm forks needed more pre-load to limit the dive. The rebound needed to be slowed also to stop the wheel from jumping back at me when I came off the brakes to turn in. Thankfully, I didn’t try running it into the apex before braking, so this happened in a straight line, but it was definitely not the sort of moment you want to be having on a bike like the Magni.
This area of the track also gave me a lesson in close ratio gearboxes, as I blipped the throttle and lifted up on the gear lever to drop into fourth. Instantly chirping the rear tire and flicking the bike a tad sideways, I quickly pulled in the clutch and made a mental note to lose more speed before attempting this maneuver again. With this in mind, I began entering the higher speed turns on the brakes, waiting to down shift until I had scrubbed off the correct amount of speed before downshifting. It definitely took some mental re-programming, and only added to the degree of difficulty I was experiencing hustling Shane’s pride and joy around the track.
As the laps ticked by, the sky grew darker and more ominous by the second as lightening forked through the murky blackness. Not wanting to end the day in tragedy, I maintained my steady pace while absorbing every sound and experience the Magni was throwing at me. Running under the bridge, I let the engine pull through the flat spot and found myself screaming in my helmet as the bike really began to pull hard this time. Noticing the cameraman crouched by the track I wondered if he could hear me over the Magni’s pipes?
Streaking through the fast right hander on full noise, before standing the bike up and getting hard on the brakes for the tight left hander at the top of the hill, I got my knee out early and my body weight shifted to the inside. Clicking down perfectly through the gears, it was time to muscle it right through the slow section before flicking into the downhill left. Hitting the exit, hanging way off, and rolling on the throttle, the Magni held a tight line without stress or drama as we shrieked through the fast left and back toward the long straight. Tucked in, clicking up the gears with the inline four wailing its soulful howl beneath me, few two-wheeled experiences will ever come close to the magic of this one.
And then the rain came. Noticing a few raindrops smeared across my visor, I instantly rolled off, sat up, and tip toed back to the pits before the storm hit. Grinning from ear to ear, I could see my excitement reflected in Shane’s face. I had not only just been privileged to ride the last Magni MV Agusta 861 built, but lucky enough to ride it as Count Arturo Magni had intended. Performing admirably without giving a moments complaint at my sloppy riding skills, I owe a sincere debt of gratitude to Shane Chalke for not keeping this rare exotic in a climate-controlled showroom and for regularly stretching its legs on the racetrack. It was an honor and a highlight without a doubt that I will be happy to talk about for years to come.